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Morwood, James Eric (1901–1974)

by D. R. Mercer

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

James Eric Morwood (1901-1974), electrical engineer, was born on 27 May 1901 at Toowong, Brisbane, son of Harry Morwood, commercial traveller, and his wife Elsie, née Bilbrough. James's English-born parents later took up dairy farming at Yalangur, on the Darling Downs, where he was educated at local primary schools and Toowoomba Grammar School (dux, 1918). Morwood won a State government open scholarship to the University of Queensland (B.E., 1923; M.E., 1931); he was 880 yards sprint champion in 1921, and graduated in mechanical and electrical engineering, with first-class honours and the university medal. The generation of electricity and its application to traction, particularly in tramways, attracted his early interest and remained prominent throughout his career.

In June 1923 Morwood became a junior engineer in the Countess Street power station of the Brisbane Tramways Trust. He resigned on 2 July 1925 to take up a Walter and Eliza Hall travelling fellowship, which he proposed to use to study overseas developments in electricity generation and electric traction. He sailed from Brisbane on 15 August, bound for London, but a seamen's strike delayed his departure from Australia and, with the approval of the Hall trustees, he spent two months studying the electrification of Sydney suburban railways and of Victorian railways and industries. Morwood reached London on 27 November and visited railway, tramway and electricity supply organizations and engineering laboratories in Britain, Europe and the United States of America. Back in Brisbane, on 29 August 1927 he joined the construction workforce at the Brisbane City Council's New Farm power station, where he was later appointed efficiency engineer.

At New Farm on 15 September 1928 Morwood married with Anglican rites Myrtle Florence Lilley, a high school teacher of English and French. He became chief engineer at New Farm power station in 1948 and in 1951 was appointed deputy chief engineer of the council's department of electricity, which included the Brisbane suburban electricity distribution system as well as the power station and the tramway system. Prominent in the development of Tennyson power station, on 1 July 1955 he became chief engineer and manager of the council's electricity department. In 1963 the State government sought rationalization of electricity supply in south-eastern Queensland. Morwood played an important role in the negotiations, which led to the transfer of New Farm and Tennyson power stations to the Southern Electric Authority of Queensland and of the inner city distribution system of S.E.A.Q. to the council. He retired in 1966.

Active in the Institution of Engineers, Australia, Morwood was a committee-member of its Brisbane division from 1940 to 1955, and chairman in 1945-46—when he was ex-officio a board member of the faculty of engineering, University of Queensland. He also at various times lectured at the university and at the Central Technical College, and was Queensland representative of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (London). Morwood enjoyed tennis and, from the 1950s, bowls; he also belonged to the Johnsonian Club and Brisbane and Caloundra Rotary clubs. He died on 25 May 1974 at Caloundra and was cremated. His wife and their daughter and three sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Cossins (ed), Eminent Queensland Engineers, vol 2 (Brisb, 1999)
  • Faculty of Engineering, University of Queensland, Report to the Senate, 1931 (University of Queensland archives)
  • J. E. Morwood personal file (Brisbane City Council archives)
  • biography of J. E. Morwood (Queensland Energy Museum archives, Brisbane).

Citation details

D. R. Mercer, 'Morwood, James Eric (1901–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/morwood-james-eric-13112/text23725, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 22 May 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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